Website Feedback Button
Fish and Game Home

Alaska Department of Fish and Game


Parasites and Diseases
Starvation/Malnutrition

A Field Guide
TO COMMON WILDLIFE DISEASES
AND PARASITES IN ALASKA

STARVATION/MALNUTRITION

caribou leg bones
Sections of leg bones from caribou, with gradually depleted fat from left to right.

What causes starvation-malnutrition?
  • Starvation occurs when an animal is not able to get the amount of energy or nutrients from food that it needs.
  • There may not be enough food available, or the animal may not be able to reach or get nutrients from food because of environmental factors (deep snow or a hard crust) or physical problems (injury, disease, parasites, poor teeth).

When does starvation-malnutrition occur?
  • Starvation and malnutrition can affect any wildlife species and usually affects young, old, weak, or sick animals.
  • It usually occurs in winter.

What are the signs of starvation-malnutrition?
  • Animals may be weak with not much body fat.
  • The skin may appear loose with a dull, rough hair coat.
  • Animals may have humped or sagging backs, sunken eyes, and small tucked up bellies.
  • The bones of the shoulders, ribs, back and hind end may stick out.
  • When butchering, you may notice a lack of fat under the skin, around the heart, kidneys and other organs, and in the bone marrow (e.g., thigh bone).
  • The marrow of a starving animal may be a red or yellow, jelly-like liquid. Bone marrow from a healthy animal is usually solid, white and waxy.
  • Muscles and organs such as the liver may have shrivelled.
  • The intestines and stomach may not contain much food or may be full of dry, poor quality food.

Can I eat the meat?
  • Meat from infected animals is suitable for human consumption.
  • Starvation and malnutrition may decrease the quality of the meat.

Samples to collect
  • Any long leg bone (e.g., femur) or jaw bone.
  • The easiest way to tell if an animal has died of starvation is to measure the amount of fat in the marrow of the femur.
  • To report an occurrence or to submit a sample for identification/analysis, contact the DWC Wildlife Disease Surveillance reporting hotline 907-328-8354, send an email to dfg.dwc.vet@alaska.gov or visit your local ADF&G office.
Please take a moment to help us improve your experience at the ADF&G website.
How did you arrive at our website?
Why did you visit our website today?
Did you find what you were looking for?
How easy or hard was it to find?
Very Easy Very Hard
Please provide any other comments or suggestions about your experience on the ADF&G website.

Having Trouble with this form?